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K-State Today

April 24, 2012

Horsepower: Veterinary medicine student advances to global scholarship competition for her work on laminitis in horses

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

A Kansas State University student is not horsin' around about developing a product that could prevent laminitis, an inflammation of the hooves in horses.

Driven by her own love for horses, Hannah Leventhal, first-year veterinary medicine student and master's degree candidate in animal science, Arvada, Colo., has been working since she was an undergraduate to develop a probiotic to prevent laminitis in horses. The disease has long been feared by many horse owners and was ultimately responsible for the death of Barbaro, the Thoroughbred who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Barbaro's struggle for survival was widely publicized after he sustained a leg injury at the 2006 Preakness.

Leventhal's undergraduate honors research paper on laminitis has advanced her to the global phase of the Alltech Young Scientist undergraduate scholarship competition. The competition will be at the company's International Animal Health and Nutrition symposium, May 20-23, in Lexington, Ky.

The Alltech Young Scientist program was created to encourage research and development by talented undergraduate and graduate students in the disciplines of animal sciences, dairy science, veterinary science, agronomy, biological sciences or other related disciplines.

"Hannah is a truly exceptional young woman who has enormous potential," said Jim Drouillard, professor of animal sciences and industry and Leventhal's master's degree program co-adviser. "During my 17-year tenure at Kansas State University I have supervised dozens of bright and talented undergraduate and graduate students, and genuinely regard Hannah as being among the most capable of students with whom I have had the opportunity to interact."

Horses contract laminitis from a build up of lactic acid, which releases endotoxins into their bloodstream and causes inflammation of the laminae connecting the hoof wall and coffin bone, Leventhal said.

"Barbaro suffered the worst-case scenario of laminitis," she said. "After surgery on the fractured leg he was confined to stall rest. The weight of the horse being supported on his other hind limb caused laminitis. He was essentially standing on one finger when the bottom limb bone rotated and went through the sole of his hoof. The owners had to euthanize him."

To prevent future cases of laminitis, Leventhal is working with a microorganism called Megasphaera elsdenii, which is found naturally in the horse's hindgut and consumes lactic acid. She is researching the possibility of administering a dose of the microorganism through a paste -- similar to wormer -- to help horses better digest lactic acid in the foregut and prevent a build-up of the acid. A similar solution has shown to be effective in cattle.

"Using this microorganism might only be necessary once the horse has gotten into the grain bin, on lush pasture or confined to stall rest," Leventhal said. "It would have been cool to see if this solution could have saved Barbaro's life."

As the first-place winner for the North American region of the Alltech Young Scientist Award, Leventhal will compete against three students from around the world for a $5,000 Alltech scholarship. She is competing in the undergraduate division since she submitted her paper prior to receiving her bachelor's degree in animal sciences and industry and certificate in equine science from Kansas State University.

"Without question Hannah is one of the hardest working students I’ve ever seen," said Teresa Douthit, assistant professor of animal sciences and industry and Leventhal's other master's program co-adviser. "Her work ethic is unparalleled. It takes a truly dedicated student to conduct graduate research while a full-time veterinary student. There is nobody who works harder and there are none more deserving of such an award."

For being the North American regional winner Leventhal received $500, a memory stick and a medal. As a competitor in the global phase she will receive round-trip airfare, paid accommodations, registration to attend the symposium and an iPad.

Following veterinary school, Leventhal would like to continue her education by completing a residency and becoming board certified in equine internal medicine or equine surgery.

Leventhal is the recipient of numerous honors, awards and scholarships, including Phi Kappa Phi's Love of Learning Scholarship; National Alpha Zeta Scholar; College of Agriculture Ambassador of the Year; American Pre-Veterinary Medical Association's Outstanding Pre-Veterinary Student Scholarship; Banfield Charitable Trust Scholarship; the university's Purple and White Scholarship; and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Scholarship. A graduate of Pomona High School in Arvada, Colo., she is the daughter of Lynn and Richard Leventhal, also of Arvada.